Wednesday 30 September 2015

Sewing an accurate scant quarter-inch seam allowance

It’s hard to believe (well for me anyway) that the world wide web, that we take so much for granted these days, wasn’t around when I first fell in love with quilting. When I first started in my teens, I taught myself the basics from books and magazines, using templates cut from cereal packets, and cutting everything with scissors!! It wasn’t until I came back to this wonderful craft in my twenties that I discovered the huge wealth of information, generously given for free, on the hundreds of quilting websites and blogs that now exist. I have learnt so much from these wonderful quilters, and continue to do so.

Many of these talented people write blogs where they share their latest creations as well as the latest tips and tricks to help us all in our projects. You can see some of them in the right-hand column in My Blog List. It is these people I would like to share with you in this series of how-to blogs. I already include links in the “I’m stuck, help!!” section on sewmotion, but I thought I would highlight some of the essentials to help those new to quilting.

This week we’re starting with the scant ¼” seam allowance. Now, I have to admit, I have learnt something new today… I like learning new things, but this was a bit of a surprise… my ¼” stitch on my machine is actually not a ¼”!! I know, shocking! Well in fact, it is a ¼”, but not a scant ¼”. You will come across the term scant in most quilt patterns, and it means that you need to sew about a thread’s width shy of ¼” to give room for the thread and the fold in the seam. 

So, for the purposes of this blog, I followed a couple of online tutorials to check my own seams. The first is from the lovely Amy Ellis at Amy’s Creative Side. She uses a ¼” foot on her machine, whereas I use my standard foot with the needle moved to the right (the ¼” stitch setting on my Janome). 

If your machine doesn't have this setting, most machines allow you to move the needle to the required position. To set this up for a ¼” seam, place a quilter's ruler on top of the lowered feed dogs so the ruler lies nice and flat (above left). Align the right edge of the ruler with the right edge of your presser foot. Slowly lower your needle so that it's not quite touching the ruler, then move the needle until it lines up with the first ¼” line on the ruler. Now you can use the edge of your normal presser foot as a guide to run the edge of your fabric against. If you would like a clearer mark, you can stick a thick piece of tape onto to your machine to give you more of a run up - The Fat Quarter Shop has a great video showing more about this guide here.

So back to checking for scantness...

Following Amy’s tutorial I cut a few 2½” fabric strips, then used the first two to sew a ¼” seam as normal. However, when I came to check my block size, I was out! This explains so much! It may seem to you that this tiny amount wouldn’t matter, hey, its only a smidgen out right? Wrong! If you imagine this amount out on say 20 blocks… that smidgen soon adds up to more than an inch and will cause problems if you're following a pattern.

Now, I probably haven’t noticed this before as I’ve used the same stitch consistently throughout my sewing, so I wouldn’t have been out when matching seams and rows to each other. However, when I’ve come to measure the whole quilt I do sometimes come up short. As I am normally following my own pattern, I've just gone with it, but if this is your first quilt, or if you're enjoying some complicated piecing, you'll want to get it right.

So, following Amy again, I went back to the machine and moved my needle .8mm to the right, setting it from 8.3 to 9, and tried again.

And what do you know, it worked perfectly! I’ll just have to now remember change this setting every time I sew.

If you don’t have a ¼” foot or stitch on your machine, this tutorial from Connecting Threads explains how to place tape down on the front of your machine to use as a guide for your fabric. Once you have tried this method, I suggest you then do as Amy did and press your seams open to measure your block, just to make sure your seam is a scant one.

Today I'm linking up with Tip & Tutorials Tuesday over at Late Night Quilter, and Sew Fresh Quilt's Let's Bee Social - come and join in the fun!

Sunday 27 September 2015

Sunday Stash #12

It feels like I haven’t added to my stash for ages, so when I had a hit of inspiration for a new quilt kit, I just had to go on a fabric hunt… which of course ended at Doughty’s! I bought a some of these Riley Blake prints back at Festival in August, and found that a couple of my Konas matched perfectly with this Fancy Free range. 

One of my many grand plans has always been to bring out a collection of pre-cut fabric sets, with quilt kits to go with them. I decided to go back to my Beginner’s Quilt and made this cute and very girly version, and then developed a kit designed to encourage and help those new to quilting. 

Each kit will contain 36 6½” squares, the border and binding strips to make the top, plus grey Aurifil thread for the piecing, and full instructions with links to the photographic free tutorial on These will be available in my shops very soon.

My Stripper sets are now available to buy in my Folksy and Etsy shops, where you have a choice of Rainbow, Hot and Cool colourways. 

Each set contains twenty 2½” x 44” strips in Kona Solids. Add some white or a soft grey as a base colour and you can make so many different designs, including my All Squared Up and my Fox in the Nine Patch quilts.

I’m also very excited to announce that I will be at Stockton’s Sparkles Christmas Market this year. I’ve not attended this event before, but looking at pictures from last year, and talking to other local small business owners, it sounds like a great four-day market with 30 log cabins for us independent sellers, plus Christmas lights, carols and hopefully mulled wine to get us all in the Christmas spirit. This festive fun will be in Stockton’s lovely redeveloped town centre from 26th to 29th November.

As you can imagine, the next couple of months are going to be very busy building up stock for a four-day market… eek!! A couple of other new products I’ve been working on are these two cushions. Inspired by Sew Fresh Quilt’s Dog Gone Cute QAL, I designed these using the stitch & flip method. They take a while to make but I’m really pleased with them, Parmo (a Middlesbrough food ‘delicacy’) and the phrase T-T-Teessider are both unique to my local area, but I’m thinking I could adapt these to all manner of phrases… when I find the time.

Before the ‘mass production’ starts, I’m looking forward to running another workshop for Doughty’s next weekend. This time we’re doing my Snowballs in Spring quilt, can’t wait to meet my quilters and have some fun!

A friend is holding a Macmillan coffee morning next weekend, which I’m sad to be missing, but I have managed to make a quilt for her to auction off - sometimes I just love my stash! Hopefully she’ll be able to raise a bit for a very worthwhile cause, which let’s face it, most of us sadly have reason to know about these days.

For more quilting fun and inspiration from around the world, pop over to Molli Sparkles’ Sunday Stash – I’ll see you there.

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Update from Sewmotion HQ

It’s amazing how productive you can be after a holiday! Which is just as well as I have so much on my to-do list right now. I know it may be a little too early for some, but for us makers Christmas is not too far away at all, so last week was spent building up some stock for the coming season. It was so nice to spend three days just sewing with no keyboard in sight!

I’ve been looking forward to using these Riley Blake fabrics (centre pic), a Doughty’s buy at Festival, and I think these new pencil cases/make-up cases are so cute! I used shower-proof fabric for the linings that make them easy to wipe clean, and also adds some body to the case. So we have this new collection, as well as some others made from ‘the stash’, and of course I had to make some small pouches to go with them. I’m planning to make some larger pouches in matching fabrics and selling them as sets, these would make lovely gifts don’t you think?!

Some items that have been selling well lately are my novelty pencil cases, so I thought I would make some more, this time a little larger so they will hold all the ‘stuff’ for school, as well as some large purses. These will hold cash, cards and keys – ideal for the young at heart.

A friend has been saying for a while that I should personalise my items, so I decided to try out my embroidery stitches on the machine, and came up with these lovely name labels, so sweet. These are now an added option in my Folksy shop.

Having spent three days sewing, it was then time to photograph and upload everything – wow, this took sooo long! I’m starting to realise that because I do some many different things, sewing, writing, photography, website stuff, that I tend to forget how to do things and need to re-teach myself regularly. So when it came to taking the pics and then writing the blurb on Folksy, my muscle memory took some time to kick in. Three days later (!) I now have some lovely fresh items on Folksy… though Etsy will have to wait a while I'm afraid.

Having got all this finished last week, I was glad to start something new on Monday, and I finally got round to making up some jelly rolls from my Kona stash. 

It has always been my intention to use these gorgeous cottons in luscious colours to design and make up some quilt kits from pre-cuts, mainly 2½” fabrics strips and charm squares. The first is a 20-stripper in a lovely rainbow colour scheme – I think the two greys sit in so well.

This second strip set is actually made up of 21 strips, and will hopefully be my first kit for this quilt...

I designed this one ages ago, I think I was actually sitting on a beach in Thailand at the time… useless at relaxing! Anyway, my brain hurt trying to work out the measurements, so I knew this one had to be made first before writing the instructions, which is the plan for the rest of today. I am hoping to get some pre-cuts for sale in my shop soon and will let you know when.

Before all that though, I managed to squeeze in another puppy dog for the Dog Gone Cute QAL over at Sew Fresh Quilts.

I think I’ve cracked the fabrics now, that grey background sets off the white really well, and I love this Louden Flitsy range. I think it may well be a wall hanging with three dogs, and the words Dog Gone Cute in there somewhere. I’m enjoying following someone else’s pattern for a change, and Lorna’s is very easy to follow, though I do find I have to concentrate more than usual with the piecing, but that’s just me. To join in this quilt-along, pop over to Sew Fresh Quilts where Lorna is sharing the instructions for the puppy blocks over the next few weeks. There will then be a Blog Hop in October, which includes me (!) – I’ll let you know more about that nearer the time.  

For more quilty love and inspiration pop over to Lorna's Let's Bee Social and WIP Wednesday over on Freshly Pieced.

Sunday 6 September 2015

European Inspiration

After the joy and pain of the Festival of Quilts, we thought a holiday was in order, and while my body was crying out for a week on a beach and a good book, my mind and husband had other ideas, so a European road trip it was! As we have good friends in Hamburg, we decided to head there first, then make our way back slowly through the Netherlands – our second home.

Having spent a lovely weekend in Hamburg, we left the car and took the train to Berlin for a couple of nights. We’d never been to Germany’s capital before, but had heard great things and were not disappointed. Berlin seems to be a city in which normal people actually live, work and play… let’s face it, you have to be fairly rich to live in central London these days! There’s a good neighbourhood vibe, and though it’s a sprawling city, it’s easy enough to walk around - that’s what we do you see, wander the streets, admiring buildings, and for me, seeing quilt designs at every corner!

One of my favourite buildings that we passed on a boat trip along the river Spree, was this modern Government building, the Federal Chancellery (Bundeskanzleramt). Designed and built after the fall of the wall, it symbolises the joining of East and West Germany with ‘ribbons’ of bridges crossing the Spree. 

I am obviously a sucker for bold shapes, and I really loved the sharp angles of the roof softened by the huge circles in the walls. This building’s juxtaposition with the much older Reichstag (with exception to Norman Foster’s impressive glass dome) and surrounding museums, really sums up Berlin today, a mixture of old and new, tradition and modernity, looking forward and not back. My feet did not thank me for “doing Berlin” in a day, which I’m sure we didn’t, but I did enjoy the city a lot and look forward to going back one day.

We spent another night in Hamburg where we went out for food and drink in the hip and trendy Schanzenviertel district. The more we see of Hamburg, the more we can understand why our friends moved there. They live north of the city out in the countryside surrounded by fields, horses and gorgeous houses. Jump on a train and in 30mins you’re in the centre of Hamburg –which not only has even more amazing modern architecture and historic docks, but also multi-cultural streets such as the Schanze, full of relaxed bars and wonderful restaurants – we went to the Südhang restaurant, superb food and great wine - highly recommended!

The next day, after fond farewells, we started our week-long journey home. Our first stop was the beautiful star fort in the town of Bourtange, just over the German/Netherlands border. Justin’s love affair with the Netherlands started long before mine, and years back he bought this book… 

…which he turned to when planning another of his adventurous ‘magical mystery tour’ style holidays – he loves it! Anyway, a little history - this fortification once played an important role in the Eighty-Years-War (1568-1648) against Spanish rule, and later in smaller conflicts, but then became unused and rundown, and was finally taken off the list of military fortresses in 1851. Thankfully, since 1971 the buildings and roads have been fully renovated and today it is a working village, where ordinary people live and work. For around five months of the year it is also a tourist sight and for good reason. 

The fort is surrounded by a moat in the shape of a star, which then has high grassy banks, which you can walk along. The grounds are so well kept and on a sunny afternoon it was a pleasure to wander round while Justin got snap happy with the camera! The centre square and lanes coming off it reminded me of a Cotswold village, each of the gardens were full of flowers in bloom and veg patches overflowing with goodies – I’ve never seen so many pumpkins!

There are two restaurants, and a couple shops, plus a candle-maker. There is accommodation on Fort Bourtange, we had a room in what was once the barracks building - our cupboard bed looked very authentic! 

I highly recommend staying here for a night, it’s so peaceful and relaxing. The fort’s website is in Dutch and German, though if you find it via Google you can click on translate. The website also has a great little film - I love the dramatic music!

After a restful night’s sleep in our ‘cupboard’, we moved on, next stop Apeldoorn and the Paleis Het Loo, the so-called “Versailles of the North”. This palace was inhabited by three generations of the House of Orange, and after years of re-building and enormous restoration, is now back to its original state when King-Stadtholder William III lived here. We took the tour of the opulent rooms and halls, a little ostentatious for our tastes, but beautiful all the same. We really came to see the gardens where surprise surprise, quilting inspiration soon hit… about time I hear you say!

Sadly the box hedges all caught a disease last year, so have all been replaced, but they still looked beautiful, I love the symmetry of the shaped lawns and flower beds – these would make great free-motion quilt patterns don’t you think!

We spent the next two nights – a weekend(!) – in a campsite on the outskirts of Amsterdam. We didn’t actually camp thank goodness, but hired a so-called Wagonette at Camping Zeeburg, about 3miles outside of town. 

The site is situated on an island on the river Ijmeer and is surrounded by cycle paths and walkways – so far from busy city life. We had taken our bikes with us in the car, so on the Saturday decided to cycle into Amsterdam, something I get the feeling Justin has always wanted to do! Now, I’m not the best cyclist in the world, in fact, I’ve only been cycling in the last couple of years - when you have a cycling instructor for a husband, you finally have to give in and try! 

And I have to admit, I’m quite enjoying it, especially in the Netherlands where the cyclist takes precedence over the motorist, and sometimes even the pedestrian I felt! The designated cycle paths are lovely and wide, there are traffic lights for bikes, separate from pedestrians and cars, and it all makes sense, I didn’t even notice the difference with driving on the right. I was doing really well… until we hit the centre of Amsterdam on one of the most busiest weekends of the year. 

The town was playing host to a huge tall ships regatta – we had never seen so many people in Amsterdam! It was totally bonkers, and we decided of course to ride straight through the mayhem in front of the Centraal Station! I have to say, I did feel very proud of myself that I didn’t either hit anyone or fall off… I think Justin had a worse time of it, he was behind me (in true instructor fashion) and worried himself silly about me! Ha! The one thing I didn’t like were the motorised scooters that came flying up behind us – should they really be on the cycle paths??

Anyway, we managed to find a clear railing to secure the bikes and went for something to eat, and then a wander – Amsterdam is great for a good wander! Justin got his ‘bike shot’ and was perfectly happy, (the bike above is actually mine, she may be old, but she looked after me well!) We then headed back to the wagon and a barbecue tea at the campsite’s bar where we listened to a great live salsa band, that was until the growing crowd suddenly took to the dance floor and started gyrating Strictly-style... we quickly left them to it! We both had strange dreams that night… maybe something to do with the sweet aroma of a Amsterdam campsite on a Saturday night…

After fresh croissants from the site shop on Sunday morning, we went for a little ride around the island and crossed over into Ijburg where we found this stunning housing estate. We both love modern house design and one day would love to design and build our own home. We would certainly be looking at this town for inspiration!
That afternoon, we decided to ditch the bikes and take the tram into town, where we spent a lovely sunny afternoon wandering around the De Pijp district, just south of Centraal Station. Similar to the Schanze in Hamburg, this vibrant and cosmopolitan area is full of trendy bars, great restaurants and cool coffee shops.

For our final three days we drove down to Den Haag where we stayed in a wooden cabin at Camping Duinhorst. The bikes came out again, and we found a lovely cycle track through the sand dunes down to the seaside town of Scheveningen, where my body finally got a chance to sit in the sunshine! Alas, this didn’t last long, our luck with the sun came to an end, and we had two days of intermittent torrential rain and rainbows!

This didn’t spoil our one and only art gallery visit though, I was over the moon to find a M.C. Escher museum in Den Haag – Escher in Het Paleis - I have loved this artists’s work since art college, and have always dreamed of designing a quilt from one of his metamorphosis drawings. I love how he turns one shape into another, and plays clever tricks on the eye. 
His tessallations also scream 'quilt' at me... maybe I have this man to thank for my love of pattern. Fortunately we were allowed to take photos (no flash) so I have added to my research and will get working on my grand plan one day soon!

The more into quilting and designing I get, the more I seem to notice colour and design in everyday places, from the paving stones on the ground in the Binnenhoff in Den Haag, to the ceiling at the main station. 

I may not have spent a week in the sun doing as little as possible, but I have really enjoyed this European adventure and feel inspired and raring to go, bring on Christmas!!

Sharing some quilting inspiration with Sew Fresh Quilt's Let's Bee Social - pop along and say hello.